Journalism Under Siege: Recent Killings Highlight Mexico’s Elusive Justice | World

SAN DIEGO — Even as journalists in dozens of cities across Mexico have held vigils and demonstrations in recent weeks to protest the violent killings of two of their colleagues, threats against local reporters in Tijuana have continued to pour in. social media and in person.

“I know where this journalist lives. I know where his whole family lives,” a Facebook commenter posted on a screenshot of a video from the scene of the January 17 murder of photojournalist Margarito Martínez Esquivel. The comment concerned one of the reporters who rushed to cover the fatal shooting of his colleague.

The siege of violence against local journalists – two of whom were shot and killed outside their homes just days apart in Tijuana – underscored the fragility of Mexican democracy. It has also sparked widespread outrage and journalist-led protests against the country’s impotence of the justice system and its long-standing cycle of brutality and impunity.

“The level of involvement of journalists across the country this week is really something I have never seen before,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, the representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists in Mexico, at the office of Fronteras on January 27. “And I think that shows the willingness of journalists to no longer accept what is happening.

Gunshots, stabbings and shootouts

Last month, in addition to the two journalists gunned down and killed in Baja California – Martínez and Lourdes Maldonado López, who was shot and killed in Tijuana on January 23 – a journalist was fatally stabbed in Veracruz. There was also an attempted murder of a journalist in Oaxaca; a local journalist was seriously injured in a stabbing in Yucatán; and another journalist was trapped with his family amid a fierce gunfight in Guerrero.

Mexico has long been considered the most dangerous country in the world for journalists outside of active war zones. There have been 148 journalists killed since 2000, according to human rights group Article 19.

In Tijuana, a city that regularly records nearly 2,000 murders a year, sometimes even slight encounters with a stranger can put someone in danger. Journalists, by the nature of their work, come closer to potentially dangerous situations more often than the average citizen.

The Mexican government has sworn that this time it will get answers – a promise that rings empty in a country without answers.

Mexican Interior Undersecretary Alejandro Encinas said in December that more than 90 percent of murders of journalists and human rights defenders remain unsolved, despite a government system meant to protect them. He added that when the culprits have been identified, almost half are local officials.

A federal delegate in Baja California on January 26 promised a full investigation into Maldonado’s murder.

“The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is determined to put an end to and lead by example in Baja California on the issue of the murder of the journalist … absolutely everyone with whom she had a conflict of neighborhood, a personal conflict, a labor conflict, an emotional conflict, all will have to enter into the investigation”, declared Jesús Alejandro Ruiz Uribe, the federal delegate.

On the same day, Baja California Governor Marina del Pilar Ávila appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the murders of journalists – Atalo Machado Yepez, who previously worked as a prosecutor in Mexicali.

Facebook or journalism?

In Baja, a proliferation of Facebook pages aimed at capturing neighborhood-specific public safety incidents has caused confusion among the public – about what content is the product of journalistic work, as opposed to content aimed at helping criminal organizations to seek revenge or protect their territory.

Often, threats first surface on Facebook.

In December, veteran journalist Martínez went to cover the scene of a house fire in the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood of the Sánchez Taboada region. It was the second time in three months that the house had been consumed by flames, according to La Jornada de Baja California. The causes of the fires were unknown.

A video on Facebook shows Martínez had a verbal altercation with a man who was also streaming live video from the scene of the fire. (This man was later identified as Angel Peña. After Martínez’s murder, Peña was identified by the local press as a former policeman from Tijuana.)

“Don’t focus on my car!” Peña shouted in the video. “Don’t focus on my face.”

“Because of his photos (of Martínez), I had a problem trying to cross (the border) in San Ysidro because they sent me to a secondary inspection and searched my vehicle,” Peña explained. to his audience. He repeatedly described himself as a “communicator” during the nine-minute confrontation.

“I don’t care about your 20 years as a journalist. I am a communicator…I speak the truth and I don’t care that you administer Tijuana en Guerra,” he said, referring to another non-journalistic Facebook page that Martínez did not operate. Peña was arrested on January 19 in connection with the Martínez homicide, but was later released.

Martínez sent photos and details of the encounter to a WhatsApp group formed to help Baja journalists report security concerns.

Ricardo Iván Carpio, Baja’s attorney general, confirmed on January 26 that investigators had ruled out the line of inquiry that Martínez’s murder was prompted by a personal dispute he had with a neighbor — an idea floated by Tijuana police immediately after Martínez’s death. Investigators are now focusing on a possible link to organized crime, Carpio confirmed.

Gabriela Martínez, a local journalist from Tijuana, explained in the January 27 morning edition of the news program “Esquina 32” the difference between what Margarito Martínez does and other journalists specializing in crime and “communicators” or social media bloggers, who run the often anonymous diary. and non-journalistic Facebook pages.

She said the main contrast is that journalists put their real names and identities on their work, often risking their own safety and that of their families to get information into the hands of the public.

“They go at night when we sleep to get the information. Then you can watch from the comfort of your home,” Martínez said. (She is not related to Margarito Martínez.)

She added that journalistic work is held to the ethical standards and professional standards of the news outlets where they work, such as confirming facts before they are reported and not putting sources at risk.

Routine threats, low pay

Martínez’s work brought him close to a dark underworld. In 2017, he was featured in a Los Angeles Times report on the dangers facing Mexican journalists.

Routine threats aside, most journalists in Mexico earn less than $2,000 a month, which sometimes forces them to work at a frantic pace for multiple outlets at once. And unless they have multiple jobs, journalists in Tijuana are more likely to live in more dangerous and affordable areas of the city.

Over the past three decades, as the Tijuana weekly Zeta documented government corruption and the explosion of the war on drugs in Mexico, two of its editors were killed and a third seriously injured. After every death and shooting, the tight-knit staff had to put their feelings aside to publish the next edition of the newspaper.

“After I published an article about military involvement in a murder, a military commander told me that I could disappear and no one would notice. He said it as a joke, but it scared me,” said a local reporter from Tijuana, who asked not to be named due to the seriousness of the threat.

Another journalist described being chased from a crime scene by a car.

“I have been threatened many times over the years,” he said.

Besides threats, journalists also regularly have to fight for labor rights and better working conditions.

Maldonado had been locked for years in a labor lawsuit she filed against former Baja California governor Jaime Bonilla, a media company owner.

She alleged that she was wrongfully terminated by Bonilla’s company and sued her for back pay. A few days before her death, she received the judge’s order in her favour. So far, there have been no arrests in connection with his murder.

If history is any indicator, the public is unlikely to ever get answers about why Maldonado was killed.

elusive justice

“I know they’re going to kill me,” Regina Martínez told a friend in 2012. (She also has no connection to Margarito Martínez.)

Family and friends have urged Proceso’s Veracruz-based national correspondent to quit and walk away. But she continued to dig into drug gangs and political corruption until the day that same year when she was beaten and strangled to death in her bathroom – a murder every bit as gruesome as the crimes she has suffered. often reported.

Veracruz investigators immediately insisted that her death had nothing to do with her profession as a journalist, that she had been murdered by a drug-addicted prostitute they claimed was her lover.

This version could have held. But in 2020, in an unprecedented collaboration, an international network of investigative journalists – some 60 reporters from 25 international outlets – set out to get answers to his murder and complete Martínez’s latest story. This story, which she never got the chance to tell – and which the Mexican federal government probably wanted to keep buried – was that thousands of Mexican citizens were mysteriously disappearing, possibly at the hands of state-trained government forces. -United.

In 2020, after the publication of the international works, President López Obrador acknowledged that the investigation into Martinez’s murder should be reopened.

His family says his killer was never brought to justice.

At Maldonado’s funeral on January 27, a family member didn’t seem optimistic about getting justice in this lifetime for the most recent local crimes. But she hoped that the journalist’s colleagues would continue their work.

“Keep up the fight, we have to fight for the right to express ourselves. And have no fear… There will always be justice, divine justice is the most beautiful,” Maldonado’s niece Renee said.

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